The discussion being had about education in New Orleans brings to mind a “do-something” rule from one of my past workplaces.

I once had a boss who demanded employees never bring a problem to him without also producing a solution. It was a smart leadership tactic because it significantly reduced the number of issues from direct reports.

It also kept us all in a generative, solutions-based mental frame.

Today that rule helps me cut through all of the dreadful, peeved education commentary written by friends, colleagues, and those who are on the perceived to be on the opposite “side” of school issues from me.

I see lots of griping. Lots of admiration for the problems

Few answers.

New Orleans is home to that situation for now. A fresh batch of test scores that can mostly be called a disappointment for the all-charter school town recently hit email inboxes, handing wringing commenced, and the usual blogtastic snipers came hunting for reformers.

Here’s what we do in this situation: we re-litigate the traumatic reshaping of NOLA schools after Hurricane Katrina.

We assign universally harmful and immoral motives to the people who pushed for changes in education.

And, we offer non-academic, non-pedagogical feel-good solutions that are far weaker than our strident articulation of the problem.

Andre Perry, a former charter school leader, leads in that mode of attack. He has another piece out today that demonizes a generic white-faced reformer who lacks any human characteristics other than a white face, and that reformer is positioned against a blameless class of black semi-professionals who were the heroic casualties of needless school reform.

This paragraph is the standard roux to all of Perry’s salty pieces:

Demands for a radical overhaul of the Orleans Parish school system in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were predicated on low test scores. But opponents of the proposed reforms said scores were used to justify the overturning of a black-run system, to fire black teachers, disempower a traditional district and profit from a public good. The cries for reform won out, leading to the dismantling of New Orleans’ school system, eventually resulting in a nearly all-charter school district.

Truthfully, he is right.

In fact, a black-run school system was torn roots, stems, and all from beneath the flood waters and the fields were planted with a dizzying array of new schools.

That uprooted a black-run school district that was also the most corrupt school system in the United States with arrests, convictions, and cheating scandals happening with such regularity it became as emblematic to the city as Mardi Gras.

Other than that, the fact that New Orleans Public Schools were black-run before the arrival of educational colonists (gentrifiers both white and black who came to participate in a district reboot) is a nostalgic sore point easily exploited for the rhetorical effect that is wholly immaterial to progress in NOLA.

You can hate me now. I’ll survive.

At least Perry is reasonably sober in his writings and not utterly betraying his notable credentials, but others show none of his relative restraint.

Such is the case with The New Orleans Tribune’s “editorial” so verbose and abusive of logic that I can hardly summarize it for you except to say it was likely written in in long hand using crayon. Its broad comedic point amounts to reform = bad and old schools = good.

The fact that NOLA Ed reforms delivered in terms of student achievement is inarguable for everyone except those pitiful souls so married to permanent protest that they can’t admit any success.

They hate change more than they love the truth.

If you’re agreeing with me so far, you just might be a school reformer. My message to you is don’t get too smug. You’re more on the hook than your detractors are. We are at an uncharted crossroads. We might be lost. What happens next could either hand the biggest victory to our critics or produce yet another impressive innovation that gets us to the charter district hybrid 2.0.

We must be real. The fact that things are better isn’t enough. The upgrade from pneumonia to the flu is not cause for a parade.

Critics of NOLA reform have a tremendous ace in their cuff and it is this: reform is no longer an outside insurgency against the traditional status quo. More than a decade into the greatest educational experiment of all times reform is the status quo.

For those cold ideologues who afforded no mercy to the old system, it is your turn to answer for shortcomings. Based on your previous head to toe reading of the previous system, expect your assessment to be doubly merciless.

The recent testing results reveal 30 schools with a grade of “D” or “F,” and substantial declines among some of the charter school operators. There is no acceptable collegial free pass for that degree of failure, especially in a “market” where bureaucracy, unionism, and legacy constraints have been removed.

Remember, we are about “no excuses,” an edict not directed at students, but at ourselves.

We broke it. We own it.

So, while I think the incessant and cheap clickbait articles that affix the word “black” to a never-ending series of emotive non-sequiturs, reform warriors have to be serious about outcomes. That means we can never go soft on failing charter schools.

For my money, my friend Mary Moran’s organization, Nuestra Voz, brings one of the only solutions-based efforts to the problem; she’s organizing parents to produce a loud demand to those well-paid leaders most responsible for bad schools.

Their campaign #30NolaEdWatch is asking: “Why should we place confidence in the CEOs of the 30 D and F schools that don’t prepare our children for their future?”

It’s a question that school leaders need to answer with all the urgency that it took for them to smuggle charter schools into the city back in 2005.

If you want to see a competent and comprehensive look at the achievement problem in NOLA that goes beyond the clickbait and callow pandering I suggest reading Pete Cook’s post “The Great NOLA Train Wreck.”



Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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